Picture a 9 year old enjoying a Chocolate Frog at the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando. She is happy to be a part of JK's Rowling's magical world -- a world that inspired in this young girl a love for reading and a commitment to human rights. Now imagine a 9 year old boy in West Africa, kidnapped and enslaved... all so that he can harvest the cocoa use to make that very chocolate frog.
It's a pretty horrifying idea. And the chances are disturbingly high that that is exactly what's happening.
The first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said "sunlight is the best disinfectant." Well... when it comes to ending child slavery, we're going to need sunlight. A lot of sunlight. The problem of child slavery in the cocoa industry is now so pervasive that Nestle's Chocolate has said that they have no guarantee that the cocoa in their chocolate is not coming from child slavery. I applaud Nestle for taking the first step in any healing process: admitting that they have a problem. I ask Warner Bros to do the same.
In 2010, 16,000 Harry Potter fans and I expressed our concern to Warner Bros that their Harry Potter chocolate has a money trail going right back to the people who are kidnapping and enslaving these children in the Ivory Coast. We followed up our concern in 2011 by informing Warner Bros of an independent report by the renowned Free2Work that gave Potter chocolate an "F" in human rights.
In September 2011, Warner Bros responded by claiming that they have their own report which counteracts the Free2Work "F" grade in human rights, by proving that Harry Potter chocolate has nothing to do with child slavery. However, they will not show us the report, nor tell us why they won't show us. The report, they seem to be claiming, is best kept away from the light of day.
If their report were accurate, it would mean that somehow the movie studio, Warner Bros., knows the chocolate business better than Nestle. Aside from that, preventing us from seeing this report discourages young people from becoming engaged citizens or asking reasonable questions. It's not healthy for democracy, our country, or our world.
The power of fan activism is something that I just talked about to a group of over 400 teenagers at TEDx Youth. I was hoping the idealism of over 16,000 Harry Potter fans would be motivator enough for Warner Bros. to be transparent. When Warner Bros. refused to show us their report and I realized that this was going to be more difficult, many experts told me to not make waves. "Do not burn bridges with Hollywood," they told me. "Just back down." Yet we in the Harry Potter Alliance had achieved change before, and are committed to doing so now. In early 2012 we started our Hunger Is Not A Game campaign, timed to coincide with The Hunger Games movie release. Lionsgate sent a cease and desist letter against our campaign, and we were worried.
But then I remembered the quote from Justice Brandeis, that "sunlight is the best disinfectant." So instead of worrying about this case in a United States Court, we decided to bring it to the "Court of Public Opinion" by getting it on the Internet.
Sure enough, on learning that Lionsgate had tried to shut down anti-hunger activists inspired by the Hunger Games, the Internet went crazy. Change.org and important content creators like Judd Apatow and John Green were quick to defend the rights of fan activists. Numerous news outlets featured the story, including The New York Times and the LA Times. Within 24 hours, the movie studio had reversed course and extended an offer to collaborate with the HPA around future movie releases of the Hunger Games.
I don't blame Lionsgate nor do I blame Warner Bros. They're just following the playbook that they're used to following in the business world: "when a small group of David-like activists come along, you're Goliath. Squash them."
But if these companies want to play ball in the twenty-first century, they need a new playbook: the twenty-first century is an era where outfits like Change.org, the Tea Party, and the Occupy movements force governments and companies to be truthful and transparent. We demand sunlight. It is an era where fan activists will not be quietly silenced by cease and desist letters. And organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance will not simply walk away when the freedom of children and their families are at stake.
Because in the twenty-first century, Davids like us have quite a slingshot: the Internet. And through our new website ShowUsTheReport.com we are building a movement that unites every stripe of nerd and fan activist to ask Warner Bros. to show us their report. If they do, indeed, have a report that disproves the serious and fact-based implication that their company is involved in the funding of child slavery, then we deserve to see it.